Monday, December 17, 2018

Examining boundaries for Math-Women

Mathematician Ursula Whitcher is a versatile and interesting person -- and currently an editor for the American Mathematical Society's Mathematical Reviews.  It was my pleasure to meet and work with her at a conference on "Creative Writing in Mathematics . . ." in Banff in 2016.  Like me, Whitcher writes some poetry -- and here is one of her poems -- this one recognizing the isolation of math-woman Sophie Germain.

       Boundary Conditions     by Ursula Whitcher

               Royal Academy of Science, Paris, 1823

       This is her moment of triumph:
       a seat at the center, a node.
       Mademoiselle Germain sits silent,
       head upright, chaperoned.
       Academy members rise
       or dip; the speaker drones.   

       Steel plate hums to the bow
       like silk stretched tight.
       Who grasps the edge controls–
       she claims– the waves inside.
       She makes her hands unfold.
       Her lips taste dry.

Sophie Germain was awarded the Royal Academy of Science’s prix extraordinaire for research in elasticity, in absentia, in 1816. Her friend Joseph Fourier extended a formal invitation to the Academy’s meetings in 1823, after his November 1822 election as Permanent Secretary.  Whitcher's poem first appeared in the January, 2011 issue of The College Mathematics Journal

Here is a link to a poem by Brian McCabe (posted June 18, 2012) that also celebrates Germain.

And here, for fun -- from Whitcher's collection of poems about animals  -- is her translation of a a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), "The Dromedary."  

       The Dromedary

  With his four dromedaries

  Don Pedro of Alfarouberi
  Travelled the world and found it merry.
  He did just what I would do
  If I had four camels too.

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